Last Thursday, Facebook rolled out new disclosure requirements for paid posts—ads—in order to prevent a repeat of at least one part of the Russian campaign to spread disinformation and deepen partisan divides on social media in the 2016 presidential election. (Accounts attributed to a Kremlin-backed troll farm spent a little more than $100,000 on Facebook ads during the cycle.) Ads relating to elections and political issues on Facebook and Instagram now have to include a “Paid for by” label. The company is also providing a searchable database to the public of all political ads that have run on the two platforms, along with information about their audiences and sources of funding.
While Facebook’s move toward greater advertising transparency is laudable, it appears the company hasn’t quite smoothed out all the kinks in the system. It’s a difficult task to determine what exactly “political content” is. As the Verge has documented, Facebook labeled ads for a report on Flint’s water crisis and for a podcast episode on the Russian media’s coverage of Trump as being political. News outlets like the Washington Post and the New York Times have also bristled at the idea of labeling their promoted posts as political ads.
Apart from these murkier cases, however, there is a wealth of categorically apolitical ads that have also been caught up in the dragnet. For example, Facebook’s system has automatically removed ads for Bush’s Beans and a barbershop because they failed to include the “Paid for by” disclaimer. It’s unclear why exactly this is happening, though it may have something to do with the A.I. system that Facebook is using to identify political ads. (I’ve asked Facebook for comment and will update this post when I hear back.)
Here is a sampling of ads pulled from the database that have been apparently mislabeled as political:
These two Bush’s Beans ads for canned BBQ Baked Beans that have that “grillin’ flavor”:
An ad for Aloha Thai Fusion’s campaign to win awards for having the Best Fish and Chips, Best BBQ, and Best Food Truck in Maui:
An announcement from a cat rescue organization in Long Beach, California:
Advertisements from a winery for its concert featuring “one of the best Polka Fusion bands in the country”:
A post announcing the grand opening of the Riverwatch Bar and Grill’s gift shop:
Ads for a 15-percent-off deal on women’s arch support “sandals, casuals & sneakers”: